Voters in California thought they’d settled a farming matter years ago. But on November 6, they were asked to weigh in on chicken coops and pig pens . . . again. And folks on both sides of the fence were squealing.
In 2008, voters voted “yes” to Proposition 2. The proposal didn’t outlaw animal cages. But it did bar California farmers from keeping chickens—plus calves raised for veal and breeding pigs—in pens so small they could hardly move. Proposition 2 simply said animals had to be able to turn around freely, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. It gave no other guidelines.
Some lawmakers and animal rights groups said those rules weren’t clear or strict enough. So voters revisited the issue with Proposition 12, the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative. On Election Day, voters approved Proposition 12 with 61% casting their votes for the measure.
Proposition 12 recommends new minimum size requirements for confinement pens for chickens, calves, and pigs. Starting in 2020, the measure will require chickens be given one square foot of floor space each. All egg-laying hens will need to be completely cage-free by 2022. By 2020, a calf confined for production will need to have at least 43 square feet of floor space. Each pig will have to be given 24 square feet starting in 2022.
The Humane Society calls the measure a “commonsense reform” that strengthens a decade-old animal cruelty law. They say it gives farmers time to shift to more humane practices. Others groups say the measure still doesn’t go far enough to stop animal cruelty.
Many people opposed the measure. The state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office says the law change will result in increased prices for eggs, milk, and meat as farmers must invest in remodeling or building new animal housing.
Jim Monroe, a National Pork Producers Council spokesman, says changes “should be driven by consumer purchasing decisions, not the agenda of any activist group.”
The measure could cost the state as much as $10 million a year to enforce. It will also likely cost millions more in lost tax revenues. That’s because at least some farms will need to stop or reduce production due to higher costs.
The proposition could get even more economically harmful. The groups supporting it want the new rules to apply to out-of-state farmers who sell products in California. That will force other states to obey the same confinement requirements even though they don’t have the stricter regulations—or lose the California market if they don’t comply.
Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel. — Proverbs 12:10